The Dangers of Individualism

IndividualismI know what you are thinking. “What the heck is she talking about? It is good that I am an individual! That makes me my own person, different from everyone else, able to stand out from the crowd and makes what I have to offer the world special!”

And that is all true. We do need to lean into our giftings and our talents. We do need to make sure that we are not just trying to “fit in” and be like everyone else around us. But there are some aspects of our individualistic societal norms that are hurting us, and lately I have been bombarded with the reality of this.

Years ago, it was a common thing to hear, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it was not only a saying, but a reality. If a child was misbehaving, it was common to see whatever adult that was around take care of the situation by stepping in and offering the necessary correction. That was because the name of the game was community. Everyone was looking out for the good of the community.

When the focus is on what is best for the community (any size – large or small, family unit or social unit) the criteria for decision-making is different from when the focus is on what is best for the individual. With one it is all about the group. With the other it is all about “me.”

When the focus becomes all about “me,” certain things begin to happen. No longer does anyone else matter. No longer does anyone else even make it into the decision-making process. When the focus is all about “me,” the basic tenets of The Golden Rule are all but forgotten.

“She did it to me, so I am going to do it to her.”

“He isn’t meeting my needs, so why should I meet his?”

“This makes me feel good, so who cares who it hurts in the process.”

This is the mindset of the individual who has lost the ability to live in community.

It is this mindset that is dangerous to our society.

When this mindset permeates a community, a major breakdown of that community occurs, and I think we are increasingly seeing the results of that breakdown in both social and family units.

The school parking lot is one area in which I see this at work. Parents are so focused on their to-do list and where they have to be that they can’t stop to let a child cross in front of their car, much less let another parent pull into the line in front of them.

I see this happening in families where the parents are so focused on themselves that the kids are left to their own devices, which not only models to the children that they can make life all about themselves, but also breaks down the family unit into a group of individuals rather than a collective, which is what the family should be.

I see this happening with kids who have never been taught respect for other people because they have parents who have raised them to believe that life is all about themselves and what they want. And I see adults who think they can bully and intimidate anyone to get what they want, because they think they are entitled to it.

I see this happening in relationships where one spouse doesn’t feel like they are getting their needs met, and instead of reaching out and working to meet the needs of their spouse, they go looking elsewhere to get what they think they need, never mind the potential (and inevitable) destruction of at least one other person.

I see this happening when it comes to health. This attitude of “I deserve to eat whatever I want whenever I want,” despite how it affects others is part of the problem with the obesity crisis in our country. Never mind how one’s health effects their family. Never mind how one’s chronic disease affects everyone else’s health care costs.

I see this happening when it comes to business. “We can go ahead and market this food (or any other item) that we know is terrible for people because we are only concerned about our bottom line, not how it affects people; and even if it does harm them in some way, we can blame them for not taking responsibility for themselves.”

But one of the saddest places I see this happening is in the church. “I know right from wrong and I know that I am good when it comes to my faith and relationship with God, and that is enough. I don’t need to help anyone else. I don’t need to offer them hope. I don’t need to give to the work of the Lord, because I need want the money more.”

I could go on and on with the ways that individualism is detrimental to our society, but I think you get the point. I hope you get the point.

During this season of Lent, I have been thinking about self-denial, preaching about self-denial, and now blogging about self-denial. As a follower of Christ, I am told to take up my cross, deny myself, and follow Christ. That means that my needs don’t come first. In fact, they come third. God and others come before me. My to-do list takes a back seat to God’s. My wants take a back seat to serving others. That is not always a fun place to be. Sometimes I feel stressed out and taken advantage of when I am living life this way; but every time God provides what I need – whether that is time to accomplish a task, rest, someone to care for me, or just a reminder that I am doing what He has called me to do.

I am trying. I am learning. I am working to teach my children. Life is not all about me. Life is not all about them. The way we view life, the way we make decisions, and the way we contribute to society has to be done through the eyes of the community and not through the eyes of individualism. That is the only way that our society will thrive, and as goes the community, we go as well.

 

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